NYC Chocolate Show

In my two posts about my trip to New York last weekend, I somehow neglected to mention why I was there – the 10th annual Chocolate Show!

Chocolate Fashion at the Chocolate Show
Chocolate Fashion at the Chocolate Show

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a 40,000 square foot exhibition hall full of chocolate. Visitors shuffle through in a daze, tasting samples from international chocolate makers, buying bars and truffles, watching cooking demos and more.

Our favorite this year was Comptoir du Cacao from France. They served up chocolate in several forms – solid pieces, pralines, and “croustines” – little clusters. I was also pleasantly surprised by the new “Crave” bar from NewTree. The pairing of apricots and milk chocolate almost didn’t interest me, but it was great (I should have known – I love their milk chocolate lavender bar).

Before my chocolate high wore off, I picked up some retro bars from Chocolate Bar and the new Chili Cherry bar from Chocolove. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention my favorite purchase (and undoubtedly the one which will last the longest) – a chocolate-scented Chocolate Show hoodie!

The entrance fee is $28: a bargain for chocolate enthusiasts, and for everyone else, a good excuse to go at least once. But if you missed it, why not pick up $28 worth of chocolate and have a tasting at home?

Nonna in New York

Do you think eating in New York has to be expensive? Not at a hole-in-the-wall takeout place, but what about at a romantic restaurant with good service and food?

I thought so, but I was proven wrong last Friday night at Nonna (520 Columbus Ave.) They offer a $25 5-course tasting menu: arancini (fried rice balls), an antipasto platter, a pasta dish, a meat dish and dessert. This menu is only available for two or more, since the appetizers and desserts are served on shared plates. To accompany your reasonable meal, the menu lists quite a few decent wines under $30.

The pasta choices were wild mushroom tagliatelle and wild boar strozzipretti – we each tried one, and my tagliatelle almost made me wish I had ordered a whole plate. For meat we both chose the pork, which was stuffed with sausage and served with polenta. Dessert was tiramisu and delicious zeppole with honey dipping sauce. The chef was very thoughtful and sent out extra tastes for our friend who’d only ordered an entree.

Nonna
http://www.nonnarestaurant.com
Map Marker 520 Columbus Ave., New York NY
(Nearby attractions: The American Museum of Natural History and Central Park.)

Kafe Lila

Something’s stirring among the abandoned storefronts on Pawtucket’s Main Street. The Grant Building is an old department store that’s been renovated to house several diverse businesses, including a weaving studio, a furniture store, a print shop, a gallery, designers and architects, a spiritual gift shop, and a cute cafe.

The first thing I noticed on Kafe Lila’s menu this morning was the unusual and delicious ice cream flavors – jasmine orange blossom, vanilla tea, earl grey, sweet basil, bleu cheese w/ almond praline, ginger, cinnamon, coconut (the last three vegan). Too bad it was 8 am and 45 degrees out!

Instead I went for a cappuccino and some vegan banana chocolate walnut bread and took a seat at a pink 50s table. The cafe is really welcoming, filled with comfy vintage sofas and chairs, with a bookshelf of art- and craft- related magazines to keep you occupied.

Cappuccino at Kafe Lila, Pawtucket

The cappuccino was the best I’ve had in a long time – the espresso was nutty and almost chocolaty, and beautifully poured as well. I noticed they also offer cold-pressed iced coffee. The enormous slice of banana bread was tasty too. I’ll definitely be back for ice cream.

Kafe Lila
http://www.kafelila.org
Map Marker 250 Main St., Pawtucket RI

Macarons

My introduction to macarons happened in college. I wasn’t on a trip to Paris – I was in suburban New Jersey at a Wegmans, where pastry chefs were trained by famous French pastry chef Pierre Hermé to replicate his famous macarons along with other dessert delights. (Macarons, for the uninitiated, are nothing like American macaroons. I’d describe them as melt-in-your-mouth almond meringue sandwiches).

Macarons from Madeleine Patisserie
Macarons from Madeleine Patisserie

Last summer I went back to Wegmans for a macaron and they were no longer on the shelves. I’ve been craving them ever since. So on last weekend’s trip to New York I had to pick up an assortment from Madeleine Patisserie (Map Marker128 West 23rd St.) on my way to the train. We enjoyed an assortment of flavors; my favorites were rose and caramel.

But now that I’m back in Rhode Island and the box is empty, I’ll just have to go back to making my own.

Fall Salad

What are the ingredients that make you think of fall, besides the obvious squash and apples? The produce that seduced me on my last shopping trip were golden beets and pomegranates. I bought both without a recipe in mind, but when I walked into my kitchen their fate was obvious – they would make the perfect fall salad.

I roasted the beets and paired the two with cubes of piquant blue cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette. It was so delicious, it’s definitely going to become a fall tradition. The dressing was inspired by a recipe from Food & Wine. The amounts below will make salads for at least 4, if not twice that. I kept the ingredients in the fridge and mixed salads as needed.

Fall Salad with pomegranate seeds, cashel blue and roasted golden beets

For an unusual but delicious pairing, try the salad with Hitachino Nest “Real Ginger Brew“.

Here’s the recipe: (click link to view)

Continue reading

Armenian Apricot Soup

I’d seen this recipe at 101 Cookbooks before, but didn’t bite – I’m not overly fond of fruit-flavored soups. Maybe this time the title caught my eye because I was planning to stop by an Armenian Festival later in the day.

Armenian Apricot Soup

It turned out to be a fortunate ‘impulse cook’. Armed with a bag of red lentils and amazing Turkish apricots (both from Whole Foods’ bulk aisle) I whipped up a batch. The flavor is complex and like nothing I’ve tasted before.

Some things I might do differently next time: halve the recipe (it made approximately 12 cups, a bit hefty for my apartment-sized fridge), use a tad less cumin, spice it up with a bit of hot sauce, maybe add more water for a thinner soup (though simply adding water while reheating does save fridge space). Oh, and maybe have people over for soup?

If you didn’t catch my link above, you can get the recipe here.

Baby Scarves

You’ve probably noticed that about 90% of this blog deals with food, but I’ll occasionally talk about something else I’m up to. Today, that’s knitting.

Baby Scarf
Mr. Tiger models the baby scarf

A few winters ago I bought some really soft yarn around the corner from my grandfather’s apartment (it was Swing from the company ONLine). Recently, I came across this pattern and realized baby scarves would be the perfect use for this cuddly yarn. It’s an easy and fast project, and since one end of the scarf slips through the other, it won’t get lost on a blustery day.

Happy Hour

Did you know that Rhode Island is one of the few states with strict laws prohibiting happy hour drink promotions? Luckily, those laws don’t say anything about food. Check out these two specials for your happy hour fix.

Happy Hour: Big Fish oysters and food from McCormick and Schmick’s
Oysters at Big Fish (credit: Michael O’Mara), $1.95 burger and cajun fare from M&S

1. Big Fish‘s Oyster Happy Hour
When? Twice a day, once from 4-6pm and again an hour before closing.
What? 49 cent oysters as well as other discounted bites. The oysters were delicious. Rumor has it that regulars have been known to order several dozens.
Where? Map Marker 370 Richmond St., Providence (in the Jewelry District)

2. McCormick and Schmick’s
When? 3:30 – 6:30pm and 10pm – midnight, weekdays only
What? A cheap but filling appetizer menu at the bar, 2-drink minimum. The star, in my opinion, is the $1.95 half pound cheeseburger (complete with fries and a pickle). On Wednesdays, they offer cajun appetizers.
Where? Map Marker 11 Dorrance St., Providence (Downtown)

Stanley’s

When I moved to Rhode Island five years ago, I felt like a misplaced transplant from the Land of Diners. During my teenage years in northern New Jersey, my friends and I ended countless late nights at 24-hour diners. College in central Jersey meant more late nights and the occasional diner study session. These weren’t “new retro” chains like Denny’s Diners or Johnny Rockets, but family-owned restaurants, each with their own character.

The first Providence-area diner I discovered was the Modern Diner, which deserves a post of its own, but unfortunately isn’t open past 3pm. I still needed a place to share milkshakes with dates and fries with friends. Imagine my excitement when I found Stanley’s, a short drive away in Central Falls. While it’s not open 24 hours, you can grab dinner there until 9 or 10 (and I’m no longer a teenager, so this will suffice). Stanley’s is the real thing – unlike some of the new “retro” diner chains, it’s actually been around since 1932.

Burgers and Fries at Stanley’s
Chili fries and poutine (credit: Jeremy May) and the inside of a bacon burger

I first heard about Stanley’s when lapetiteamericaine told me they served an Americanized version of poutine. I tried these and their chili fries, which are excellent. They serve up the perfect diner-burger: flat, tender and topped with caramelized onions. Add a frothy milkshake and you have the classic diner experience.

If you’re a Stanley’s fan, I have great news – they’re busy constructing a second location in Providence’s Jewelry District. If we’re lucky, maybe it’ll have later hours to keep the area nightlife fed.

Map Marker 535 Dexter St., Central Falls, RI
http://www.stanleyshamburgers.com/

Butternut Squash Chili

Lately I’ve been occupying my scarce leisure time with an important assignment – clipping the most interesting recipes from my stack of cooking magazines. Luckily, one of the few I’ve tried was a keeper – I’ve already made it twice in two weeks. It’s extremely quick, healthy and perfect for fall.

Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard

It isn’t pictured in the magazine, and now I know why – it’s not terribly photogenic.

The recipe is “Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard” from the March 2006 issue of Bon Appetit. It took me a very easy half-hour to make because I cut the butternut squash ahead of time. I added more than the recommended amount of chili powder, extra hot sauce, and substituted vegetable with beef broth for a heartier flavor. Great to bring to work for lunch.